Why I”m thinking about ironing on a hot day in July I’m not sure but it was a summer activity that kept some of us in the shade even though it was a bit steamy. I’m not sure the younger generation even know what ironing is unless they sew but most don’t know what that is either.
When I was a teenager I babysat five young children on occasion and one of the jobs that was never finished at that house was ironing. Having five children prior to “perma press” meant long nights of pressing little boy shirts and trousers and little girl frills on sundresses.
At my house everything was ironed (no exaggeration) and I learned how to do it early in life. The iron was kept in the cupboard by the hot water tank in the kitchen and pulled out for use almost daily for clothing that needed a touch up before before being worn. In those days people actually wore an item of clothing several times before it was laundered. That was partly for practical reasons like “who in the world needs more laundry” but also because clothing made with natural fibre didn’t seem to hold odor like synthetics do. Hanging something on the line outside for a few minutes and letting it blow was often enough to freshen the smell and then a quick press and it was ready to wear. Wool dresses, suits, and skirts were seldom sent to the cleaners. Sweaters had to be washed by hand and laid out on towels to dry and never needed much pressing.
On the other hand there were things that had to be ironed that probably really didn’t need to be ironed. I spent hours every weekend ironing sheets, table cloths, pillow cases, tea towels and aprons. Sheets had to be changed every week so they had to be ironed every week. With these items as well as cotton shirts there was a special process to getting it right. The item would be placed on the ironing board and carefully sprinkled with water from that sprinkler in the pop bottle shown above. Moving the item over the board it was sprinkled with water until every inch was damp. Then it was carefully rolled into a tight tube shape, placed with other items inside a damp towel and stored for a while while other things that weren’t in need of so much steam were ironed. They were then removed and ironed carefully, being sure each stroke of the iron left no crease because if it did it might mean sprinkling, rolling up and starting over. If for some reason the ironing didn’t get done before the days end the remaining items were put in the fridge so they didn’t get mold on them before morning. I might add, this all happened after the clothes had been on the clothes line for a few hours to dry. A light rain before bringing the clothes in was actually much appreciated. It saved a lot of time.
These were the days of the famous reversible pleated skirt which were lovely to look at but not quite so much fun to iron. Thank goodness they were heavy enough to hold most of the pleat well but they did require some work. The portion to be ironed would be carefully laid out on the board in the manner it was to lie when finished. This often meant holding the bottom of the pleat with one hand while laying a damp tea towel flat on top of the creases. Then the iron was run carefully over the towel in one direction only. When the towel was removed if there was no extra crease or wrinkle the job had been done right.
The damp towel over the item was also a way to guarantee the hot iron didn’t leave a nasty brown mark on a piece of clothing. Burning Dad’s shirt was not appreciated. A fellow usually only had one good white one for Sunday and besides being expensive to replace there was not another to wear to church.
The advent of the “steam iron” was all too late for my youth but did make the work much easier and often removed the need for the sprinkling, though it sure made things look crisp if you used the methods in tandem.
Ironing shirts was an art at my house. Our neighbour, Chuck Watkinson, ran a men’s clothing store, and he had shown my mother how to press sleeves without a crease so I also had to learn the art. Sleeves were pressed first on the item. The cuff was carefully pressed first and then the sleeve turned and laid flat with the top of the shoulder at the top of the board. The rest of the sleeve material was carefully laid out so that when the iron went over it there would be no creases. Iron, being careful not to touch the sides of the sleeve then turn on to its side with the seam at the bottom and press again being careful not to go over the top of the sleeve and make a crease. I’ll show you sometime if you want to see. The system completely eliminated the need for the little wooden sleeve board that was also in the cupboard but at my house was never used except when sewing.
Starch was something that wasn’t used very often at our house. My Dad didn’t like it on his collars but once in a while it would find it’s way onto a table cloth for a special occasion. This was another time the sprinkler came in very handy. Rather than having to soak the item in starch it could just be sprinkled on when it was dry.
As the years have gone by the iron has been used less and less by me. You will never know my delight when a friend showed me that if I took my husbands perma-press shirts from the dryer to hanger the only thing I had to press was the sleeves and collar. He wore about 25 shirts a week and insisted they all be ironed but he never caught on to my trickery.
Ironing is one talent I hope my granddaughter never has to acquire though if she likes rayon I might have to give her a lesson in crease-less sleeves. The chances of the return of sewing are also very unlikely so thank goodness that old board and iron I have now stay so far tucked back in the closet that I’m not sure they are still there.